Below are the two essays lifted from The Spectator, a UK right-wing weekly magazine. Read closely: the second is an extension, a qualification in fact, of the first. But both are equally applicable to Malaysia — the signs are everywhere — and so to serve as a caution to Umno and others that Malaysia and the Malays they seek so much to defend and preserve might just explode one day in their faces. Qanta Ahmad in the second essay is most pertinent. She is weak in pinning down what’s Islamism but one gets her point.
The central idea in the essays is this: In the hands of jihadists, radicals, imams, mosque preachers, politicians, (and Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia Today, Ibrahim Ali, Jakim officials, and Wahhabists), and spread by them, whether from the pulpit or by murder (even school children), Islam becomes an ideology, a sort of perverse Caliphate, and not as a faith, personal and assuring to the individual. Islam becomes Islamism and as Islamism Muslims find themselves locked in, unable and unwilling to live with the neighbor, whether Chinese or white, not even to sit down to eat and talk. After Charlie Hebdo, the west has woken up to their disasters of multi-culturalism and liberalism, that couldn’t and wouldn’t tell the difference, Islamism from Muslims. Democracies must have pluralism that Islamism would not tolerate (think Isma and Jawi). So bad is this situation that the only way out is not for the west to act — they can’t without giving up they own creed, liberalism. It is for Muslims, true Muslims, to deal with Islamism themselves because it is they, not the west (nor the Chinese), who have most to lose.
Essay 1: ‘Religion of Peace’ is not a harmless platitude.
By Douglas Murray
The West’s movement towards the truth is remarkably slow. We drag ourselves towards it painfully, inch by inch, after each bloody Islamist assault.
In France, Britain, Germany, America and nearly every other country in the world it remains government policy to say that any and all attacks carried out in the name of Mohammed have ‘nothing to do with Islam’. It was said by George W. Bush after 9/11, Tony Blair after 7/7 and Tony Abbott after the Sydney attack last month. It is what David Cameron said after two British extremists cut off the head of Drummer Lee Rigby in London, when ‘Jihadi John’ cut off the head of aid worker Alan Henning in the ‘Islamic State’ and when Islamic extremists attacked a Kenyan mall, separated the Muslims from the Christians and shot the latter in the head. And, of course, it is what President François Hollande said after the massacre of journalists and Jews in Paris last week.
All these leaders are wrong. In private, they and their senior advisers often concede that they are telling a lie. The most sympathetic explanation is that they are telling a ‘noble lie’, provoked by a fear that we — the general public — are a lynch mob in waiting. ‘Noble’ or not, this lie is a mistake. First, because the general public do not rely on politicians for their information and can perfectly well read articles and books about Islam for themselves. Secondly, because the lie helps no one understand the threat we face. Thirdly, because it takes any heat off Muslims to deal with the bad traditions in their own religion. And fourthly, because unless mainstream politicians address these matters then one day perhaps the public will overtake their politicians to a truly alarming extent.
If politicians are so worried about this secondary ‘backlash’ problem then they would do well to remind us not to blame the jihadists’ actions on our peaceful compatriots and then deal with the primary problem — radical Islam — in order that no secondary, reactionary problem will ever grow.
Yet today our political class fuels both cause and nascent effect. Because the truth is there for all to see. To claim that people who punish people by killing them for blaspheming Islam while shouting ‘Allah is greatest’ has ‘nothing to do with Islam’ is madness. Because the violence of the Islamists is, truthfully, only to do with Islam: the worst version of Islam, certainly, but Islam nonetheless.
Last week, a chink was broken in this wall of disinformation when Sajid Javid, the only Muslim-born member of the British cabinet, and one of its brightest hopes, dipped a toe into this water. After the Paris attacks, he told the BBC: ‘The lazy answer would be to say that this has got nothing whatsoever to do with Islam or Muslims and that should be the end of that. That would be lazy and wrong.’ Sadly, he proceeded to utter the second most lazy thing one can say: ‘These people are using Islam, taking a peaceful religion and using it as a tool to carry out their activities.’
Here we land at the centre of the problem — a centre we have spent the last decade and a half trying to avoid: Islam is not a peaceful religion. No religion is, but Islam is especially not. It is certainly not, as some ill-informed people say, solely a religion of war. There are many peaceful verses in the Quran which — luckily for us — most Muslims live by. But it is by no means only a religion of peace.
I say this not because I hate Islam, nor do I have any special animus against Muslims, but simply because this is the verifiable truth based on the texts. Until we accept that we will never defeat the violence, we risk encouraging whole populations to take against all of Islam and abandon all those Muslims who are trying desperately to modernise, reform and de-literalise their faith. And — most importantly — we will give up our own traditions of free speech and historical inquiry and allow one religion to have an unbelievable advantage in the free marketplace of ideas.
It is not surprising that politicians have tried to avoid this debate by spinning a lie. The world would be an infinitely safer place if the historical Mohammed had behaved more like Buddha or Jesus. But he did not and an increasing number of people — Muslim and non-Muslim — have been able to learn this for themselves in recent years. But the light of modern critical inquiry which has begun to fall on Islam is a process which is already proving incredibly painful.
The ‘cartoon wars’ — which began when the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten published a set of cartoons in 2005 — are part of that. But as Flemming Rose, the man who commissioned those cartoons, said when I sat down with him this week, there remains a deep ignorance in the West about what people like the Charlie Hebdo murderers wish to achieve. And we keep ducking it. As Rose said, ‘I wish we had addressed all this nine years ago.’
Contra the political leaders, the Charlie Hebdo murderers were not lunatics without motive, but highly motivated extremists intent on enforcing Islamic blasphemy laws in 21st-century Europe. If you do not know the ideology — perverted or plausible though it may be — you can neither understand nor prevent such attacks. Nor, without knowing some Islamic history, could you understand why — whether in Mumbai or Paris — the Islamists always target the Jews.
Of course, some people are willing to give up a few of our rights. There seems, as Rose says in his book on the Danish cartoons affair, The Tyranny of Silence, some presumption that a diverse society requires greater limitations on speech, whereas of course the more diverse the society, the more diverse you are going to have to see your speech be. It is not just cartoons, but a whole system of inquiry which is being shut down in the West by way of hard intimidation and soft claims of offence-taking. The result is that, in contemporary Europe, Islam receives not an undue amount of criticism but a free ride which is unfair to all other religions. The night after the Charlie Hebdo atrocities I was pre-recording a Radio 4 programme. My fellow discussant was a very nice Muslim man who works to ‘de-radicalise’ extremists. We agreed on nearly everything. But at some point he said that one reason Muslims shouldn’t react to such cartoons is that Mohammed never objected to critics.
There may be some positive things to be said about Mohammed, but I thought this was pushing things too far and mentioned just one occasion when Mohammed didn’t welcome a critic. Asma bint Marwan was a female poetess who mocked the ‘Prophet’ and who, as a result, Mohammed had killed. It is in the texts. It is not a problem for me. But I can understand why it is a problem for decent Muslims. The moment I said this, my Muslim colleague went berserk. How dare I say this? I replied that it was in the Hadith and had a respectable chain of transmission (an important debate). He said it was a fabrication which he would not allow to stand. The upshot was that he refused to continue unless all mention of this was wiped from the recording. The BBC team agreed and I was left trying to find another way to express the same point. The broadcast had this ‘offensive’ fact left out.
I cannot imagine another religious discussion where this would happen, but it is perfectly normal when discussing Islam. On that occasion I chose one case, but I could have chosen many others, such as the hundreds of Jews Mohammed beheaded with his own hand. Again, that’s in the mainstream Islamic sources. I haven’t made it up. It used to be a problem for Muslims to rationalise, but now there are people trying to imitate such behaviour in our societies it has become a problem for all of us, and I don’t see why people in the free world should have to lie about what we read in historical texts.
We may all share a wish that these traditions were not there but they are and they look set to have serious consequences for us all. We might all agree that the history of Christianity has hardly been un-bloody. But is it not worth asking whether the history of Christianity would have been more bloody or less bloody if, instead of telling his followers to ‘turn the other cheek’, Jesus had called (even once) for his disciples to ‘slay’ non–believers and chop off their heads?
This is a problem with Islam — one that Muslims are going to have to work through. They could do so by a process which forces them to take their foundational texts less literally, or by an intellectually acceptable process of cherry-picking verses. Or prominent clerics could unite to declare the extremists non-Muslim. But there isn’t much hope of this happening. Last month, al-Azhar University in Cairo declared that although Isis members are terrorists they cannot be described as heretics.
We have spent 15 years pretending things about Islam, a complex religion with competing interpretations. It is true that most Muslims live their lives peacefully. But a sizeable portion (around 15 per cent and more in most surveys) follow a far more radical version. The remainder are sitting on a religion which is, in many of its current forms, a deeply unstable component. That has always been a problem for reformist Muslims. But the results of ongoing mass immigration to the West at the same time as a worldwide return to Islamic literalism means that this is now a problem for all of us. To stand even a chance of dealing with it, we are going to have to wake up to it and acknowledge it for what it is.
Essay 2: How to save Muslims from Islamism
By Qanta Ahmad
[Note: There is a mis-naming of the original title ‘How to save Islam from Islamists’ (those idiot, white journalists; they just don’t get it), perhaps no fault of Qanta Ahmad, but it is contradictory in textual fact, argument, and logic. It was thus retitled.]
“We are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move because the Islamic world is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost. And it is being lost by our own hands. [T]his thinking — and I am not saying religion — should cause the entire Islamic world to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. … Religious discourse is the greatest battle and challenge facing the Egyptian people. We need a modern, comprehensive understanding of the religion of Islam, [rather than] relying on a discourse that has not changed for 800 years.” — Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, President of Egypt
“We must name the beast.” — Qanta Ahmad, British Muslim doctor
The terror attack in Paris last week represents Islamism’s most explicit declaration of war on free society. Non-Muslims were slaughtered in a non-Muslim country to avenge a so-called crime against a blasphemy law that is not even Islamic — but merely Islamist. If there’s any blasphemy here, it’s that of Islamism itself against my religion, Islam.
At last, on New Year’s Day, the president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, did what no other leader of the Muslim world has done to date: he named Islam’s real enemy. In a gathering of religious clerics at Cairo’s ancient Al Azhar University, he called for the rescue of Islam from ‘ideology’. His speech was given little coverage in the western press, but it is worth repeating at some length.
‘We are in need of a religious revolution,’ he said. ‘You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move because the Islamic world is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost. And it is being lost by our own hands.’ It is inconceivable, he said, that ‘this thinking — and I am not saying religion — should cause the entire Islamic world to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world.’ The remedy, said al-Sisi, was for Islam to recognise and talk about its mutant strain. ‘Religious discourse is the greatest battle and challenge facing the Egyptian people,’ he said. ‘We need a modern, comprehensive understanding of the religion of Islam,’ rather than ‘relying on a discourse that has not changed for 800 years’.
Sisi’s speech is significant because the Islamic world has precious little record of leaders discussing Muslims’ collective responsibility for the toxic ideologies within our midst. President Sisi’s candour has shone light upon the most critical issue of our time: the urgent need for the Muslim world to denounce Islamism as the imposter and explain the real meaning of the Quran.
I’m a British Muslim who has lived in Saudi Arabia and worked as a doctor in Pakistan — and I have seen how any discussion about Islam is increasingly dangerous in these places. In nations gripped by Islamist ideology, it’s deemed ‘Islamophobic’ to be critical of Islam in any way. Even in the West, critical discussion is becoming difficult. The United Nations has passed several resolutions giving Islamophobia the status of a crime under international law.
So it’s not enough simply to say, as so many did last week, that the Islamists will never win. In several important arenas, they are winning already. Their idea of blasphemy is particularly potent: Shahbaz Bhatti, a Pakistani government minister, was executed by Muslim ‘defenders of the faith’ after his brave criticism of Pakistan’s inhumane (and explicitly Islamist) blasphemy laws. The governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was assassinated on the same grounds. The French journalists were killed to establish a de facto blasphemy law in Europe by sending out a message: if you publish certain cartoons, you put your life — and that of your staff — at risk.
The jihadists’ other objective, of course, is to speak for the Muslim world and advance the idea of a clash of civilisations. This is going fairly well, if opinion polls are to be believed — more or less half of those in Britain, Spain, France and the United States say they believe that Islam is not compatible with the West. And this is why Muslims cannot rely on presidents and prime ministers to denounce terrorism — the public will be persuaded not by what political leaders say, but what we Muslims say.
To assert that this Islamism is un-Islamic is not a kneejerk response to its atrocities but the only conclusion that can be drawn after serious consideration of its principles. The Damascene Muslim scholar, Bassam Tibi, identifies six tenets of Islamism. The first is seeking a new world order through a new dictatorial global ‘caliphate’. (It matters little that the word ‘dawla’ — Islam as state — appears nowhere in the 80,000-word document that we accept as the revealed Quran.) Next is the establishment of Islamism within democracies — Islamists are keen to stand for election, but once they get into power they want to shut the democratic gate behind them.
The third principle is positioning Jews as Islam’s chief enemy, thereby making anti-Semitism central (as Hamas’s founding charter attests). Then comes the perversion of classical jihad into terrorist jihadism — with which the world has become all too familiar.
The fifth tenet is sharia law — not sharia as described by the Quran, but a concocted version used to impose a form of totalitarian rule which is without historical precedent. As we see, particularly in Iran and Pakistan, mercy has no place within Islamists’ version of sharia.
In his searing study of the subject, the British lawyer Sadakat Kadri makes the critical observation that ‘pitiless punishment’, while lacking in Islam itself, has found a comfortable home in much of the Islamist world. Judges have been ‘required to punish but forbidden to forgive’, meaning stonings, amputations and floggings. Medieval barbarity has become a modern-day reality across much of the modern Muslim world — except that such punishment was unusual even in medieval times. Kadri notes that in five centuries of documented Ottoman legal history, there is only one record of a stoning to death.
When they are not exacting pitiless punishment, Islamists are busy with the sixth tenet: their concept of purity and authenticity. Any challenge to Islamism is, to them, de facto evidence of an un-Islamic behaviour. As Professor Tibi puts it, this is what makes Islamism ‘a totalitarian ideology poised to create a totalitarian state’ on a par with Nazism and Leninism. ‘Given that Muslims constitute more than a quarter of humanity,’ he concludes, the tension ‘between civil Islam and Islamist totalitarianism matters to everyone’.
This tension has been building for years. It has broken out into war in Pakistan, as I saw for myself while travelling with the rangers of the Frontier Corps in Waziristan. I saw Pakistani Muslims — civilians and military — de-radicalise and rehabilitate former child jihadists who had been indoctrinated with Taleban ideology. Pakistani soldiers had no trouble understanding the concept of a jihadist or accepting that the Taleban’s creed is a heresy of our great faith. I saw children greet the military convoy, knowing who had pushed back their Islamist oppressors.
Last month’s massacre of 132 children in Peshwar was a shocking reminder to the Muslim world that Islamism is not just directed at westerners. It’s also a reminder of why the animus against Islamism is rising — holding out the prospect of real reform. The Muslim Brotherhood’s hold on Egypt did not last long, and the rise of Isis in Syria and Iraq is giving the whole region a growing sense of what unbridled Islamism actually looks like. Crucially, the jihadis are losing the argument. Ten years ago, a Pew poll found that 41 per cent of Pakistani Muslims said that suicide bombings were sometimes justified. Now, it’s down to 3 per cent.
This is what President Sisi was getting at: this is the moment for the Islamic world to expose Islamism — but loosening its hold upon our faith falls upon those Muslims who value pluralism and pursue a civilised, enlightened Islam. The reformation many are calling for isn’t needed of Islam, but rather of Muslims — and specifically of Muslim leadership.
Similarly, western powers can no longer overlook the very major distinctions between authentic Islam and the jihadist imposter. Failing to call Islamism by its name (a failure of which Barack Obama is, alas, guilty) guarantees defeat. The idea of a war between general Islam and the West is exactly the outcome Islamists seek. Failing to name Islamism out of political correctness, fear or stupidity is the ultimate Islamophobic act. What is seen, often sincerely, as a desire not to offend has only allowed Islamists to thrive within our democracies as they plot their extinction.
So we must name the beast, and do so with conviction. This is not just about weeding out a jihadi menace from Birmingham schools, but about giving millions of Muslims the chance for a peaceful coexistence with the rest of humanity. And it’s about persuading non-Muslims that the Islamists are wrong — that such coexistence is possible.
Muslims are reminded by the Quran that to each people is sent ‘a Law’ and ‘a Way’ and that Muslims should not judge people of other faiths in the light of their own. Instead, the People of the Book must judge themselves by their own revealed texts (‘unto you your religion, and unto me my religion’) as we worship the same God. The Quran teaches that Moses and Aaron are to be revered for their courage in the face of merciless rule. The Torah and the Gospel are to be honoured.
And it is a biblical exhortation — let there be light! — that sums up what President Sisi was saying in Cairo, and what many Muslim reformers are saying now. From the Pakistani badlands to the banlieues of Paris, notice must be served to the Islamists: Muslims — that is to say, real Muslims — are coming for you.
(Qanta Ahmad is a British Muslim based in New York, and the author of In the Land of Invisible Women, about her experiences working as a doctor in Saudi Arabia.)